"And if you're offering me diamonds and rust, I've already paid …" -- Joan Baez

Giving up breathing for Lent is not what I recommend, but I seem to have done it, thanks to allergies.

Chomping cough drops like candy and spraying all kinds of nostrums up my schnozz, I yearn to breathe free, like Lazarus said. But I can't help thinking how penitential and Lenten seems my refractory olfactory state.

And yet it's an enigma rolled up in a conundrum wrapped in antihistamine. Why did good God make my nose this way, and occasionally fill the air with stuff to muck it up, I wonder. Aquinas said that evil is the lack of a due good. Breathing is good and necessary. Maybe He wants me to appreciate it more earnestly.

A fellow could unappreciatively "give up" something for Lent without the dearth doing him any good. We all know we should think more deeply about our religious practices, so that they really are spiritual, as they should be. Nevertheless, many of us make room within ourselves for religion right next to malware like resentment and spite, which are poison for the soul.

In the song above, Joan Baez talks about a similar unhappy melding of emotions, lamenting the bitterness in one's heart over foiled love. It's an uncomfortable juxtaposition.

Jesus provides a way out of such spiritual discomfiture by returning us to fundamentals -- to the uttermost mundane, in the best sense, in John's Gospel, Chapter 9. There Our Lord encounters a blind man, a person lacking a due good. He heals him, to the disapprobation of the frozen chosen, not by glamorous means as one might expect, but by spitting on dirt.

Jesus smears the resulting mud on the guy's eyes, and then, after he washes it off, he can see. Christ implies that, if we seek his miraculous healing, we don't need fancy presumptuous practices or pious snake oil; we just need to appreciate the love and caring for one another that are as much part of God's creation as soil and water.

You'll recall that Indiana Jones reiterates that wisdom by figuring out that Jesus and his pals -- working stiffs to a man -- at the last supper drank, not out of a diamond encrusted golden goblet, but from a rustic cup made of ordinary clay.

Such is the spiritual breath for which we all yearn: So easily within our reach but for our misguided grasp. Lust for the diamonds of self-justification leads only to rusted stuffiness of the soul. To breathe free is to repent, and that is the true meaning of Lent.

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